James River Batteau Festival

Every year the Batteau Festival sneaks up on me, and every year I regret not taking the week off. Right now, a number of my friends are making their way from Lynchburg to Richmond on simple, unwieldy boats known as “batteaux.” Over eight days, 15-20 of these boats navigate the James River, accompanied by dozens of kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders who camp with them along the shore each night. They endure all kinds of weather as they make their way 120 miles through Central Virginia just as the river traders did centuries ago. On Saturday night, at least, the weather was perfect. After the sun set and candle lanterns glowed in the dark, I walked out onto one batteau that was tethered to the shore and felt like I stepped back in time. There was a warm breeze and all I could hear were frogs croaking and the rush of the water. Around one lantern on a nearby boat, several people sat talking, dressed historically as the original boatmen would have, in simple, loose, light-colored cotton shirts and pants. Of course, there are plenty of modern conveniences that help now—propane cookstoves, electric bilge pumps, weather tracking apps—but there is something valuable about preserving traditions like this one. I’m already looking forward to next year.

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Catch ‘Em All

Pokémon Go trainers have taken to the streets worldwide hunting down virtual monsters. I downloaded the game on the day it came out to see if it was worth all the pre-release buzz. And as soon as a cute little Pidgey hopped onto my desk a few minutes later, I was hooked. Mind you, I am not a gamer. I cannot tell you the current console versions or the last game I played with a controller. The only system I ever owned was a Sega Game Gear. I did play the original Pokémon (red?) but it was on a computer emulator years later. That said, this game is pretty special. Technology is actually forcing people to meet and interact with one another, and, in the wake of so many awful shootings and disturbing protests, players seem keen to keep in-game rivalries friendly; I’ve seen opponents share playing tips and noticed numerous “…but it’s just a game” remarks on Pokemon Go forums. It seems to be one of the few things in the news lately where people have found common ground.

Fad or not, Pokémon Go is a milestone for AR-style (augmented reality) games and the interactive app industry that will be talked about for decades. The unprecedented number of users (estimated at 20 million in the US) has developers scrambling to beef up servers to keep the game functioning. Yet even with the occasionally frustrating glitches and lags, the excitement of catching a not-yet-seen Pokémon keeps people out for hours, glued to their phones, telling themselves “just one more…”

While out filling my own Pokedex, I’ve been collecting photos of players in action. Already ridiculous, I can only imagine how these photos will look in 10, 20, 50 years.

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